Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/The Hampdens - Part 8

THE HAMPDENS.

AN HISTORTETTE. BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.

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CHAPTER XI. DOING ROYAL ERRANDS IN MERRY ENGLAND.

My daughter, Harry is right,” said Mr. Hampden to Henrietta. “London is no place for you at present. If I were to tell you what our dangers are, you would desire to be gone.”

“Whose dangers?”

“In a word, the critical hour of the country has come. The King’s friends chide him for having yielded too much; and his enemies know but too well that those concessions are not to be relied on. Hear me, child! The universities teach him that his word is void about church matters while the Archbishop is in the Tower; and he is abundantly ready to apply the same rule to all his promises. The army is entirely unsafe; and lest it should march down upon us, we are taking measures for calling out the trained-bands, to guard the parliament houses. At any moment blood may be shed: some of the best blood in England would have been shed this very week but for our vigilance and our readiness.”

“May I know whose?”

“Has not Lady Carlisle told you that Mr. Pym’s life is sought?”

“Is it possible! And oh, father, are you safe, if Mr. Pym is not?”

“None of us are safe; but no other man is in the like danger, because he is the great accuser of the Court party. But the days are charged with peril as they pass, like so many thunder clouds. Do you not see it as you take your airings in the parks? Do you not see it in the face of the congregation at church? The very cries in the streets are hoarse or shrill, as coming out of passionate hearts.”

“Will there be war then? Is it war that you mean?”

“It depends on the King. By his plan of going to Scotland I believe that he intends war, whether he strikes the first blow, or compels his people to do so. Whatever the event, my daughter, you should be at home to abide it.”

“And you, father?”

“I am at the disposal of the council, who will sit in London permanently henceforth. I doubt whether I shall be much at Hampden this summer: but whether in Scotland or here, or travelling in England, I must have the comfort of knowing that my children are in a safe nest.”

Henrietta recoiled from the thought of home. Whether Harry were there or absent, she should be miserable. It was after a conversation with Lady Carlisle that she besought leave to visit Sir Oliver. If she might repose herself at Biggin, with little Dick for her amusement, nothing would tranquillise her so much.

Little Dick might not go to Biggin. Richard would certainly not allow any child of his to live in a royalist house, to incur a debt of obligation, and to receive those strong impressions of childhood which have an incalculable effect on the mature character. Henrietta might pay her duty to her old uncle if she would; but she must so far give up the charge of Dick. It was after another evening spent with the Countess that she announced that she would confide Dick to Aunt Carewe, and go down among her relations in the Fens. The Mashams would take care of her. She would pay her duty to Aunt Cromwell at Ely; and, for a few weeks, she might, as she said to herself, find some peace of mind. She trusted that, as always before, separation from Harry would revive her tenderness for him. They were not now happy together. The dreadful truth could not be hidden from herself. She feared it could no longer be hidden from her father.

Mr. Hampden indeed understood her restlessness. He counselled Harry to indulge every wish of hers which was not utterly unreasonable, as the sole hope of her finding her own way to peace at last. She therefore travelled to Biggin, with her husband for her escort, on one of the brightest days of July.

By the weight of the luggage in the cart which they passed and repassed on the road, it might seem as if Henrietta intended to remain permanently at Biggin. A remark or two had passed upon it at starting; but Henrietta was to be crossed in nothing, and she was left at full liberty. She had been largely supplied with money of late. If Lady Carewe had been in London, such an expenditure must have been accounted for; but Lady Carlisle had been her adviser and companion in making her purchases; and she declared that her young friend had only provided what was due for the child and grandchild of a Hampden and a Carewe.

During the latter stages of the journey, the horses had started more than once, as horses from a distance were apt to do, Harry was assured, in the Fen country, where the fowlers hide themselves in the sedges or behind the banks, to the terror of strange horses. As the travellers were passing a field of ripening wheat, Henrietta was nearly thrown by the shying of her horse, and Harry was angry accordingly, till he had found that no mischief was done. He had seen somebody lurking in the corn, he declared; and he committed Henrietta’s rein to one groom, and called the other to follow him. As soon as he had leaped the gate, and ridden a few yards into the corn, several armed men sprang out, and surrounded Harry and his groom, while two or three made their way into the road, and formed a guard round Henrietta. Her husband shouted to her not to be alarmed;—these were friends; and in a moment he was by her side, introducing to her the leader of the party, Major Petherick, whom she perhaps did not recollect, but who had been one of the party at Hampden on the evening of the return from Port Eliot. After a few words of apology from Major Petherick, and an assurance from Henrietta that she had not been at all agitated, the party proceeded, Harry falling behind, in earnest conversation with the officer in command of this strange ambush.

When he rode up alone, Henrietta was full of curiosity as to what this ambush could mean. The answer she obtained was that the country was in a disturbed state everywhere, more and more armed men appearing in all directions every day. The roads which led to well-known royalist houses were watched by the one party, and the appointments of the agents on the parliament side, and the councils of the leaders, were beset by spies.

“I hope, Henrietta,” said he, “that you have nothing in those trunks of yours that you cannot claim as your own: because—. Is there anything wrong with your stirrup? Let me see;” and Harry threw himself off his horse and went round to his wife’s stirrup. “Is it right now?”

“Quite right; but because of what, Harry? Why may I not carry about everything I have in the world?”

“Everything of your own, by all means, from your spinet to your watering-pot: but only your own. Carry no letters or chattels for any body. It is not pleasant, to ladies at least, to have their goods turned over by armed men; but it is really dangerous to be the bearer of other people’s despatches.”

“I did not know,” said Henrietta: “but I know now.”

“If I had not been with you,” continued Harry, “that party of Petherick’s men would probably have stopped the cart and searched your luggage. Nay, my dear: do not start so. There is no other ambush between this place and Biggin. Petherick assured me that we might ride as securely as in the park at Hampden.”

“How came those men to be watching this road?”

“Sir Oliver is believed to be expecting some guests not quite so innocent as ourselves.”

“What guests?”

“I know not. If it is true, you will soon see for yourself.”

“I do hope they will not be there to-day,” said Henrietta.

“So do I. When they enter the house I must leave it; and I wish to pay my duty to the old gentleman at full leisure and in peace. We owe him much.”

Both husband and wife were silent after this. They were thinking of their marriage as they passed into the old avenue, and the thought was not of the happiest.

No guests were there who could trouble Harry’s visit. The chaplain, and two gentlemen who had come to fish in the neighbourhood, were all. Helen Masham was coming, and perhaps a sister or two: that, again, was all.

Sir Oliver was older, and he was in graver spirits, and more dignified in manner, than Harry had yet seen him. His bearing reminded Henrietta of the day at Basing House. She did not say so, for she now kept close, as a sacred trust, all her recollections of the King and Queen. She never profaned their names by uttering them to persons who had no feeling or instinct of “the divinity that doth hedge a king.” Husband and wife agreed that Sir Oliver was aged, and that age became him. The rural squire was merged in the ancient gentleman.

In the evening it was certain that Sir Oliver had not drunk too much, nor had the chaplain. The sporting gentlemen perhaps had, for they were not present. They had retired to their apartments from the dining-room. Thus, while the chaplain sat in the west window, reading the news-letter of the week by the last light, the other three sat by the little wood fire talking over some family matters. Sir Oliver said he burned a little billet every evening in the year now. Old bones are chilly; and besides, there was no knowing, in such times, that one would not be glad to burn the contents of one’s pocket or escritoire at any moment.

Henrietta told him that till this day she had supposed the country gentry of the Fen safe from such disturbance: and she was proceeding to relate the adventure of the morning, when the chaplain put down his news-letter, the butler entered the room, and Harry put on an air of listening. Sir Oliver was dull of hearing; but when Henrietta started up from his side, and Harry opened a window, he cried out that Helen was about to arrive, no doubt: he had been sure she would come to-night.

The butler and the chaplain held a brief parley; and then they informed Sir Oliver that a party of armed men had entered the park at several points, and that they were surrounding the house.

“Pull up the drawbridge!” shouted Sir Oliver.

The servants had tried to do it; but the structure was very crazy, and some of the strangers had levelled their muskets at the porter and his aids; and before they could effect anything, several horsemen were on the wrong side of the moat.

“Here they are!” said the chaplain from his window; and several figures passed backwards and forwards in the garden, their armour shining in the yellow light from the sky.

“They may be friends,” Sir Oliver observed.

“They may be,” said the chaplain: “but there is a puritanic cut about them, to my eyes. If any of you have anything to hide or burn, you may have time, for I expect to see them go down on their knees and pray before they cross a Royalist threshold.”

Henrietta turned red and pale. Her uncle comforted her, and her husband bent over her, tenderly assuring her there was nothing to fear. It wounded him deeply that she shook him off, laid her head on Sir Oliver’s breast, and drew his arm round her.

“Do not flutter so, my little bird,” said the old man. “Nobody shall ruffle a feather of my little bird while I am on the nest. Heigho! whom have we here? Cousin Oliver, unless my old eyes deceive me. It is long since we met, but I believe I see my kinsman Oliver.”

It was Cousin Oliver; and very great was the relief to everybody in the room. The chaplain, it is true, looked haughtily on the Puritan, and settled down again to his news-letter in the window; but the Carewes greeted Oliver in cousinly fashion, and the old uncle was always courteous as a host. He would have been as polite to Jenny Geddes in his own house, as to any lady in the Queen’s train. Cousin Oliver, however, was not to be outdone in manners by the old cavalier. He entered, hat in hand, as a sign that he was not going to stay. He bent as low to the old man as he had ever bent to the King. He declined to sit down.

“You will not sit!” exclaimed sir Oliver. “Then what are the rest of us to do?”

They were all on their feet at the moment, except the distant chaplain, who now felt himself obliged to rise.

Cousin Oliver desired that no one might be incommoded by his presence: he would but testify his respect for grey hairs.

“Grey hairs! pshaw!” cried the old man. “That is out of Scripture; and the Scripture people did not wear wigs, I suppose. Where is the use of keeping your feet on pretence of my grey hairs, when you see I don’t wear my hair grey. If you have no better reason, take your seat, and make yourself at home in your kinsman’s house.”

“I have another reason, sir Oliver. I am come, if not as an enemy,—and I am an enemy to no man who is not his country’s enemy,—yet am I not come altogether as a friend. I am not come of my own will at all. In a work like ours, our own wills are the last to be consulted; but I am sent on an errand which I am in no way free to refuse.”

“Let us hear what it is without more beating about the bush. What does my kinsman want of me?”

“Your poor kinsman wants nothing of the reverend chief of his house. Nevertheless the cause needs—.”

“Aha! you are come on parliament business. Your troop of armed men might have shown us that. What! you are come to turn us out of the old house, because Mr. Pym wants it, or my Lord Brook fancies it, or some of your new-fangled colonels think it is time to be garrisoning the Fens? If the Lord of the Fens bids me quit, I suppose I have only to obey. It is the fashion to obey now. His Majesty yields up his prerogative and obeys his subjects; so old Oliver must yield up his old house, and the uncle must obey the nephew. How long will you give us to remove?”

“It pleases sir Oliver to jest,” said the grave nephew. “He has the choice of all England where to live,—under this roof or any other; and no one desires to trouble him. These armed men shall not enter his presence. All that is asked of him is to permit me to stand in his presence till my men have discharged their office.”

“What office? If you will not speak out, kinsman, I must learn otherwise what this means. Carewe, oblige me by seeing what those fellows are doing.”

Harry declined to interfere, in the present stage of the affair. He trusted Cousin Oliver would explain it fully. Sir Oliver then desired the chaplain to make inquiry. His reverence was evidently not sorry when Cousin Oliver intercepted him on his way to the door, and plainly intimated that he must not leave the room. It were best, he said, for the avoidance of brawls, that the needful work should be done in quietness and without disturbance. That work, he said, was (not to lengthen out speech) to assure certain citizens, who were charged with the guardianship of the law, whether or not any persons were laying up the means of setting aside the law for good and all.

“Cousin Oliver,” the old man said, in an amused tone, “you need better acquaintance with your own kith and kin. No one here troubles himself about the law, whether to cant about it or to break it.”

“Most true, I doubt not,” Oliver replied; “but some persons in England have more guile in them than this household and its head, and it may be that certain articles may be secreted within these walls.”

“O ho! that is your errand,” cried Sir Oliver. “Well! it is not precisely what an old English gentleman would covet to have his house searched like the cellar of a suborner of thieves; but in these times gentlemen have to bear strange slights and novelties. But, Cousin Oliver, let it be once for all. When you have ransacked the place from the leads to the cellars, I shall expect an apology, and a pledge that the insult shall not be repeated.”

Cousin Oliver bowed low. He did not smile when the old man desired that his people should seize and carry away whatever they did find hidden, for it could be nothing but the rats from the moat and the mice in the walls.

Harry was attending to his wife, who was trembling in a corner of the sofa, her face as white as the wall. As he brought her a glass of wine from the sideboard, all eyes were turned upon her.

“She must go to her chamber,” Harry said to Cousin Oliver. “You will allow me to attend her there, on my engaging not to leave her side?”

Cousin Oliver was under great concern that this could not be permitted. He gave her air; he gave her wine; he offered to withdraw to the other side of the door (after casting a glance round to satisfy himself that there was no other way of leaving the room); but for the very short time that now remained, the four persons present must remain where they were.

Except that Harry spoke to his wife in whispers, as he stood over her, no one said anything more. Sir Oliver looked out at the gathering twilight; the chaplain was as still as a mouse; and Cousin Oliver paced the long room, from the large window at one end, past the door, and to the tall mantelpiece at the other. His boots creaked irritatingly; he talked to himself, his lips moving continually, and some odd sounds escaping him in his reverie, till Harry could scarcely restrain his laughter. He and Henrietta had often amused themselves with Cousin Oliver’s oddities; but Henrietta was not amused now. She tried to laugh; but it would not do. She threw her handkerchief over her face, and trembled behind it.

At length there were sounds in the hall which made the visitor stop in his walk, and then bow low to his uncle, saying that he would return,—for a few moments only,—to pay his duty before departing. Henrietta then became so agitated that, on Oliver’s re-appearance, some apology was made about her alarms on account of stories about marauders roving the country.

“I crave no pardon for saying,” replied Oliver, “that my kinswoman is the person in all this house who best knows that we are not marauders, and wherefore we have come.”

He launched into a discourse on the lightness and deceitfulness of women, and announced that there had been found not only some of the King’s plate, but certain jewels of the Queen’s, which were to have been conveyed abroad by the two sportsmen who were supposed to be in bed. Their early morning sport was to have been the deportation of these jewels, some of which were national property. Moreover, there were despatches addressed to foreign agents.”

“In the pockets of these guests of mine!” exclaimed Sir Oliver. “On the word of a gentleman, I knew nothing of it.”

Cousin Oliver needed no assurances on this head.

“But where did you find these despatches?” Harry inquired; “and why should these Jesuits bring them here? I don’t understand.”

“Faithful men are inapt at dealing with the unfaithful,” Cousin Oliver observed sternly. “It was not on these men that the papers were found. They would have been delivered into their hands to-morrow.”

“Where then were they?”

“Folded in the garments of a woman—”

“Do send him away!” whispered Henrietta. “I will tell you all.”

The intruders were gone presently. No one of the party would touch wine or food in the house. Their leader did not offer to pray, as the chaplain had expected. As the tramp of the horses resounded on the drawbridge, bolts, bars and chains clanged ostentatiously; it was a vain show of indignation, which made Cousin Oliver smile grimly. He had caught a great prize; but in the midst of his satisfaction he bestowed some sorrowful thoughts on his hopeful young kinsman Harry Carewe.

“I ask you this, Henrietta,” Harry said to his wife that night in her dressing-room. “And I must have a plain answer. Did you know that those papers were wrapped in your clothes?”

“I did.”

“Did you know that they were from the Queen for certain parties abroad? Did you know that you were to transfer them to other hands here?”

“I did: but hear me!”

“Presently. Did you know that those packets contained the crown jewels?”

“I knew that it was some valuable property which their Majesties desired to pledge or sell.”

“Now, then, Henrietta, speak. I will hear you. Say what you have to say.”

Henrietta began to explain the feelings under which she had undertaken this adventure; but she could not proceed. She said to herself afterwards that it was because there was no sympathy in Harry’s countenance,—none in his heart;—and no sense in his mind of the principles and sensibilities of loyal persons. He told her that her weak excuses had no weight with him; and she replied that explanations were thrown away upon those who could not understand or feel them. He told her that she had madly forgotten her duty; and she retorted that she was devoted to a higher duty than he conceived of. He told her that she had betrayed her husband’s honour; and she declared that she despised the low selfishness of common men, who took precious care of their own honour, while trampling under foot the dignity and prerogative of God’s vicegerent. Both believed and said that this hour must dispose of their lot; and both felt that they must part. If so, it must be then and there.

“Once more, Henrietta,” said he, showing himself at the door, after he had disappeared. “I give you one more chance. You shall go home with me if you decide aright. You must choose between the King and me,—between his cause and ours.”

“Then I choose the King and his cause,” Henrietta replied without a moment’s delay: and Harry was gone.

Some bolt or bar must have been unfastened that night; for before the July dawn, Harry was far on his way to London.

By some means Sir Oliver must have known what had happened; for he stole an anxious glance at Henrietta as she met him in the breakfast-room.

“My brave little one!” he exclaimed as he kissed her glowing cheek, and admired the fire in her eyes. “I am proud of my kinswoman. Cheer up, my love! When the traitors find how true spirits rally round their Majesties, we shall see plenty of quailing. We must keep up our hearts now, and our day will come. Meantime, their Majesties shall hear what such humble servants as you and I can do. Now we will have our breakfast together. Those fellows are gone; but I doubt whether fishing is their game. Unless Helen comes, we shall be alone to-day. I ask no better; for I am proud of you, Henrietta; and you know I always was fond of you.”

Henrietta gave him a bright smile. While the passion lasted, she believed herself glad of the parting,—glad to have delivered her soul, and taken the consequences.